Chillin with Silver Medalist Nick Goepper

Chillin with Silver Medalist Nick Goepper

Published by Brion O'Connor

What's Next for the Slopestyler? Exclusive Interview.

Nick Goepper hasn't been resting on his laurels since capturing silver at the Winter Olympics in South Korea. Following the Winter Games, the Kulkea athlete won the season's final World Cup slopestyle event in Italy, celebrated his 24 th birthday, got engaged to longtime girlfriend Lizzy Braun, put down some roots by buying a house in Salt Lake City, and tweaked an ankle while skateboarding.

When asked if he was now feeling all grown up, Goepper, laughing, replied: “No, dude, I won't be grown up until I'm dead.”

At Pyeongchang in February, Goepper saved his best performance for last, uncorking a stellar final run that scored a 93.60, vaulting him into second place. After his run, he flashed his trademark smile and quipped to the television cameras, "Perfect North forever," a salute to his childhood hill, Perfect North Slopes.

"It was sort of an in-the-moment thing, but it's funny how much response I've gotten from that comment from my family, my friends, and media in my home town," said Goepper. "It's kind of cool.

"They've been a big supporter the last few years, sponsoring me, helping me get places with a travel budget. They're really stoked," he said. "The owner of Perfect North (Chip Perfect) is kind of a serial entrepreneur himself. He's involved in a lot of different businesses, not just the ski resort. He's an inspiration to me."

If not for the first of three final runs by Norway's Oystein Braaten, which garnered a 95 score from the judges, Goepper might have brought home gold. Still, Goepper, having recorded scores of 59 and 69 in his first two runs on the finals, needed something special to compete for a medal. And he delivered in front of a boisterous crowd that included Braun and his parents, Linda and Chris Goepper.

“The highlight for me was performing under pressure,” he said. “Not being able to land a run until the third run, and then being able to accomplish that and prove to myself that I could do it, that was huge.”

For the Indiana native, the silver was his second Olympic medal, a step up from the bronze he won in the 2014 Games. This time around, he said, the over-riding emotion following the Games was “relief.”

“It's totally pressure-pack. But I like that pressure,” said Goepper. “I perform the best when I've got that pressure. I like those situations. They bring out the primitive instincts in a human being. You're completely, 100 percent focused. I love that adrenaline, I love that rush.”

In March, at the Italian resort of Seiser Alm, Goepper wrapped up his slopestyle season on another high note, taking first place in the final World Cup meet, edging out Switzerland's  Andri Ragettli, the overall World Cup champion, and James Woods of Great Britain. Watch Nick's winning run.

“That was another benchmark for me,” he said. “I hadn't won an event in a while, so it was nice to be back on top of the podium. And I had a good time. I took some friends with me, and it was relaxing. So that was pretty sweet.”

The victory bumped Goepper up to No. 6 in the world FIS rankings. He was the top American, placing just ahead of fellow North Americans Alexander Hall (7 th), Evan McEachran of Canada (9th), and Mcrae Williams (11th). Goepper was also the top American in the AFP World Tour rankings, finishing 5th. However, those final standings mean little for established slopestyle competitors, he said.

“The whole world ranking thing is more important for the younger guys who have to qualify for contests,” said Goepper. “When you're at the top, you just want to be on podiums. That's how you get your name out there.

“I want to win every contest that I enter,” he said. “That's where my focus is at.”

Goepper plans to be doing that for a long time to come. As an example, he points to American snowboarder Shaun White, who won Olympic gold in South Korea at the ripe old age of 32.

“He inspires me a lot, and makes me think you can do this for a while, maybe into your early 30s, if you take care of yourself,” he said. “The most important thing is that you love it, so that will be my main focus.”

Goepper also stressed the importance of taking care of his body and staying fit, year-round. He acknowledged dinging up a knee during a Dew Tour event at Breckenridge, Colorado, in December.

“That was kind of plaguing me the rest of the season. I could still ski but it was a little painful,” he said. “But as far as injuries go, and the danger aspect (of slopestyle), I've been doing flips on my skis for over 10 years, and the muscle memory and the air awareness is so automatic now that it's pretty safe.”

By mid-May, Goepper said his 6-foot, 170-pound frame had generally recovered from a winter season spent traveling and competing.

“I'm healthy. I rolled my ankle skateboarding about two weeks ago, so that's what I'm nursing right now,” he said. “But overall, my body feels really good, and I'm just constantly trying to learn how to improve it, doing different workouts, things like that. It's sort of like a science project.”

That science project includes a renewed emphasis on nutrition.

“I've learned how important food is. I think food is really crucial to your performance,” he said. “You don't really understand that until you start putting good food in your body on a consistent basis. Then you realize how much better you feel. That was my big takeaway from the past year.”

This summer, Goepper will gradually begin to ramp up his training regimen with a few weeks “jumping into the water” at the US Olympic facilities in Park City, Utah, two weeks at Mount Hood in Oregon (where his career took flight while attending Windells Academy), and then travel to resorts Down Under in New Zealand and Australia before a final tune-up trip to Switzerland in the fall. In between, you can likely find him working around his new home, skateboarding once the ankle heals, or in the gym.

“I'd like to get back on the skateboard as soon as possible. I really love skating, and it's good cross-training,” he said. “It's a lot like skiing, with a lot of the same transitional movements, and body muscles.

“And I like getting into the gym too,” said Goepper. “It's boring, but it's a fun challenge to make a boring task more interesting. I'm not doing a ton of heavy weights. I'm not a bobsled driver, or a football player. I'm not trying to be real big. We're talking a lot of body weight stuff, a lot of agility. I'd say it's about 30 or 40 percent strength work, and the rest is body weight and agility-type stuff.”

An avowed Cleveland Cavaliers fan, Goepper will also be watching LeBron James in the NBA Finals, and hanging out with good friends and fellow slopestylers, including Williams, Joss Christensen, and John “JB” Brown (another athlete who competes for Ireland due to his dual citizenship).

“Your peer group that you surround yourself with is very influential on your success,” said Goepper. “Sometimes I find myself performing better when I'm around guys who may not be the best, but they're my best friends, rather than trying to vibe with guys who are Number 1 or Number 2, but I might not be as tight with.

“I think it's good to spread yourself a little it,” he said. “But I really like to surround myself with my closest friends, no matter what I'm doing, because that's when I feel myself just pushing the most.”

The multiple Winter X Games champion is also looking forward to see what slopestyle brings next. From the perspective of “the technicality and the difficulty” of the moves, said Goepper, “we've kind of hit a ceiling right now in terms of what our bodies can actually do, and how many flips and spins we can do.”

“The new evolution that I'd predict is going to be more creative and artistic, the style on the tricks and the variety of lines you take down a slopestyle run,” he said. “We're not going to start doing four and five and six flips, that's just physically impossible. We'll have to take a more creative approach.”

That creativity is likely to expand to the actual design of slopestyle courses.

“Everything course is different, which is kind of sweet,” said Goepper. “It's not like a skate park that's there and is permanent. Snow is very moveable, and you can do whatever you want with it. So course designs are going to get more funky and creative too, which will challenge us.”

And if Nick Goepper has proven anything, it's that he's always up for a challenge.

Image: AP

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